The new McCarthyism
of the debate on
One might wish to see the non-coercive society that Rose Galt (12 October) thinks we could live in, but no such society exists in the UK. We still live in a one-size-must-fit-all approach to legislation that chooses which right to uphold and which to deny, rather than trying to find a genuinely-pluralistic approach.
To explain my point, may I simply turn one of Rose's arguments, constructively, on its head? She admits that a hotelier had a conscientious objection to homosexual practices. He was taken to law and lost his case. Although he pleaded a reason based on his religious belief, that homosexual practice was wrong for him to countenance, his right to act in accordance with his beliefs was ridden over rough-shod by the law.
The gay people were at liberty to seek a bed for the night under anyone else's roof. They did not need to insist on that of a strict religionist, whether Christian or Muslim. They could have respected his conscience, however distasteful to themselves. Had they done so, there would have been no court case: both sides would have had their way freely. And yet the hotelier's conscience was treated as valueless and punishable.
This is not democracy. It has no balance, no plurality. At the time of the trial, I heard people exulting that an honest man was humiliated by the gay lobby's legal eagles. Impartially viewed, the case was as much about a denial of human rights as an affirmation of them. The same goes for the registrar with a conscience. Can no-one else be found to do it without violating the faith of an individual?
One cannot discuss this imbalance of rights in Britain without being accused of being 'homophobic', an abuse of language which equates non-approval of homosexuality with an unreasoning hatred of gay people, which is not the case. A fearful atmosphere hangs over the issue that deters honest citizens from objecting to the undemocratic side-effects of 'gay rights'. This is fed by pro-homosexual media and empowered by default, since many are afraid of liberal human rights laws. We seem to face a new McCarthyism that demands unqualified allegiance. Is this how a democracy behaves?
In reality, we know there is no point in demanding that only views that we find acceptable should pertain. A lot of what happens on television today is unpleasing to my eyes. I would be quite happy if 'Big Brother' and 'The Only Way Is Essex' did not exist, but they do. Other people like them. So, I choose my channels and let others choose theirs. I would not dream of knocking on my neighbour's door and demanding that he hand over his remote control so I can make him watch my favourite programmes. I have better manners. If I visit him, I accept his house rules. If I do not like his rules, I go elsewhere. It is a free country. If I enter his house, reject his rules, then take him to court for thinking differently, he is not the anti-social one. And where, then, is freedom?
If we entertain hopes for freedom in Scotland, let us not equate equality legislation with pluralism. If Scotland is to be tolerant, let us tolerate totally contradictory views and ensure their security.
The archbishop represents the Catholic Church, which was – as Alex Salmond has indicated – one of Scotland's mainstays during our wars of independence. The appearance of Catholic Scots was one of the more historically-accurate elements in Mel Gibson's 'Braveheart'. The archbishop wishes to input, into a national conversation, the Catholic Church's viewpoint. He has the right and responsibility to do that. One does not have to agree with him in order to uphold his right to be part of the debate on Scotland's future. The Catholic Church believes that marriage is ordained by God between a man and a woman. If the people of Scotland are to hear an uncomplicated Christian viewpoint, people like the archbishop must be allowed to speak. The day that a man of conscience and education cannot speak out publicly will be a new dark age for all of us.
With regard to the argument that permissive does not mean compulsory, it is not so in practice. Let us learn a lesson from the Kirk's experience. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a push on to impose women elders. At a general assembly, opponents were assured that accepting new legislation would not mean women elders in the west, where they are not prevalent. It was to be 'permissive': accept the Kirk's liberal laws and those who did not agree could opt out.
On that basis, many in the Highlands and Islands dropped their objections. In a few, short years, the people that had made that promise confidently broke it. It was declared that if something was permissive, then it had to be permissive to everyone and so, by simple – if topsy-turvy – logic, it was no longer to be permissive, but compulsory. The lesson for the archbishop is clear: do not believe those who talk of permissiveness; it is the first step to compulsion. The consistent aim of political liberals is to subject the church to the laws of the state, which is another battleground of Scottish history.
If we entertain hopes for freedom in Scotland, let us not equate equality legislation with pluralism. If Scotland is to be tolerant, let us tolerate totally contradictory views and ensure their security. When the gay person accepts the strict Christian's faith and respects it, without invasive interference, and when the strict Christian allows the gay man to do his thing in his world, without imposing his Christian restraints upon him, then we may have freedom, but not before. It would not stop them arguing to persuade each other.
However, we are nowhere near achieving a pluralistic society that accepts the co-existence of contrary views and respects them. If we insist that all must follow one way or be punished by the state, not only do we not have such a pluralistic society, we have not even begun to understand our potential to become one.
Bruce Gardner is a retired Church of Scotland minister